Great Faith, Good Shepherd (Matthew 15:21-28)
I. Faith Outside of Israel (verse 21)
The theme of this passage is great faith (v. 28). The woman’s faith is even more amazing when we consider that she is from among the Old Testament enemies of God’s people, being a Canaanite woman from the the regions around Tyre and Sidon. However, by her simple faith, despite her very limited access to the truth of God, she possesses what many of the Israelites lacked, despite all of their privileges and access to the Scriptures.
II. The Woman’s Need, Jesus’ Silence (verses 22-23)
This woman is in an utterly desperate situation. Her “little daughter” (c.f. Mark 7:25) is cruelly possessed of a demon, and this woman is utterly helpless to do anything other than watch on in agony. She apparently gets word that Jesus has come into her region, and she “came out” looking for him. She began to cry out, or she kept crying out time after time, as she appealed to the Lord for mercy. However, despite her many desperate cries, “He did not answer her a word” (v. 23).
She continued crying out long enough for the disciples to finally say something to Jesus about it. Perhaps they themselves were wondering why Jesus had refused to give her a response for so long. Why wouldn’t he just heal her daughter and send this woman on her way? Why would Jesus continue to leave her alone in her heartbreaking cries for mercy? Is he not the same Messiah that would “deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper” (Psalm 72:12-13)?
III. Jesus’ First Objection, the Woman’s Persistence (verse 24-25)
Jesus responds to the disciples by reminding them that according to the plan of His Father, His earthly ministry was not to be directed toward the Gentiles, but was to be carried out among the Jews, to whom the Messiah was promised. Of course, we know that following His death and resurrection, that distinction between Jew and Gentile would no longer exist under the gospel, since both would be made into one new man in Christ. But that was to follow His crucifixion, and was still in the future. At this point in His ministry, Jesus can rightly say that He was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. His answer then, seems to confirm the motive behind His silence. He has been silent toward the woman because He was sent to the house of Israel, not to the Gentiles.
But she came even closer to Him “and began to bow before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’” (verse 25). His silence or his objection do not drive her away; instead, they only draw her in closer and closer to Himself. The more He seems to withhold His mercy from her, the more diligently she seeks it.
IV. Jesus’ Second Objection, the Woman’s Great Faith (verses 26-28)
Despite her persistence, Jesus still does not yet grant her what she’s seeking (v. 27). In fact, this answer seems to be even worse than the last one. Jesus says there are children, and there are dogs. The children are those who belong to the people of Israel; the dogs are all the Gentiles who are outside of the covenant people of God. And just as bread is meant for the children, and not for the dogs, so also the blessings of God are meant for His covenant people, and not for those outside the covenant. Jesus is leading her into a deeper and deeper abandonment of any claim at all on His blessing and favor. There is nothing at all about her that would give her the right to ask for His help.
But she was willing to believe that the boundaries of Jesus’ love and mercy stretched even as wide as her (v. 27). She agreed with him completely that she was a dog, unworthy of His mercy. But she also believed that He would not leave a dog like her lacking the crumb that she needed. She persistently believed He was a Merciful Savior, and refused to drop her head in defeat and settle for a non-answer.
As a result, Jesus commends her for her great faith (v. 28). Here we see the goal that Jesus had in mind all along. From the very beginning He knew what was in the heart of the woman. He knew the faith that was found there. He knew the grace that God had already begun working out in her. But he wanted to draw it out even more fully. With every trial, her faith became even more and more evident. Finally, in response to her persistent faith, Jesus heals the woman’s daughter.
- What stands out to you about this woman’s great faith? Do you possess the same kind of faith she demonstrates? Are you tempted to settle for merely possessing truth, rather than using the truth of God’s Word as a means of more fully trusting Jesus?
- This account primarily points us to the great faith of the Canaanite woman, but it also calls our attention to the wise and careful shepherding ministry of Christ to His people. He knows what is in our hearts. He knows what we need. He knows how to mature and strengthen our faith. And He does it perfectly for each of His children. In what ways can this passage encourage you to more fully trust Christ as your good Shepherd?